July 27, 2017

"Researchers analysed the writing of regular bloggers with either terminal cancer or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) who all died over the course of the study..."

"... and compared it to blog posts written by a group of participants who were told to imagine they had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and only had only a few months to live. They looked for general feelings of positivity and negativity, and words describing positive and negative emotions including happiness, fear and terror. Blog posts from the terminally ill were found to have considerably more positive words and fewer negative ones than those imagining they were dying – and their use of positive language increased as they got close to death."

From "We fear death, but what if dying isn't as bad as we think?/Research comparing perceptions of death with accounts of those imminently facing it suggest that maybe we shouldn’t worry so much about our own end."

Shorter version: Dying is better than you think.

49 comments:

David Begley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
YoungHegelian said...

Shorter version: Dying is better than you think.

Well, gosh. That's a sentiment expressed by close to a bazillion* hymns, spirituals, prayers, & sacred poems. Sometimes, even the secularists have a turn at it.

While out driving today, I was listening to Ralph Stanley singing:

Snap a finger, Jesus, take me home.
My love ones have gone on.
I can't sing too many more songs
Snap a finger, Jesus an' take me home



* A bazillion. I counted.

Big Mike said...

I'm not eager to verify this.

For that matter, I'm not eager for you to verify this, Althouse.

mockturtle said...

Most people who are terminally ill are miserable. No surprise that death might come as a relief.

Henry said...

Telling people to imagine something isn't a control group.

Ann Althouse said...

I'm not suggesting that it's better to die early, just that you shouldn't spend your valuable time imagining dying. You'll be getting it wrong, so you're tormenting yourself with a delusion.

pacwest said...

Gee. I can hardly wait.

David Begley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
traditionalguy said...

We are either randomly combined chemicals that cease to interact when the blood stops pumping, or we are souls that go somewhere still aware of our spiritual body.

Believe what you must to confirm science, but anyone that has seen an alive and active man suddenly go empty of all life in a death rattle minute knows what he saw happen...and seeing is believing.

Zach said...

It's hardly a double blind study.

Really, if you know you have to go, what's the point posting negative thoughts (as opposed to having them)? Nobody likes a whiner.

Imagining yourself dying is quite different. It's a way to see yourself getting all the pity and special treatment that you aren't getting in your everyday life. It's more of a dark daydream than an actual attempt to predict the details.

David Begley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Zach said...

You'll be getting it wrong, so you're tormenting yourself with a delusion.

Is it torment, or the delicious anticipation of how sorry everyone will be when you're gone?

Bob Boyd said...

"Dying is better than you think."

But it won't be if you start thinking this.

Bob Ellison said...

Imagining dying can be a solace.

bgates said...

you shouldn't spend your valuable time imagining dying

Goodness, I don't spend my valuable time imagining me dying.

Rigelsen said...

The result itself is hardly surprising as any number of movies or books, fictional and otherwise, can attest. However, their interpretation seems flawed. Asking someone otherwise healthy to imagine they will imminently die is really just asking them to play pretend about something they have no first hand experience of. So, why is it surprising that their pretense will not match up to someone living it?

If you're actually dying, how much of your remaining days are you going to spend railing against the inevitable versus trying to make the most of the time you have left? For the dying, death may be an undiscovered country but at least it's an end of this life. For the pretender, "death" is simply when they get to stop pretending. The pretender loses little by his continuous negativity. The person dying loses what is left of his life.

Michael K said...

Resembles utility calculations. In decision theory, you choose an outcome and one choice is often death,

Or a chance of death.

bgates said...

Today in The Guardian:
Concern that those horrible Tories mean to privatize our beloved NHS

We can stop giving all those expensive pills to sick people

Judge decides to have small child killed

And what's the big deal about death anyway?

Fernandinande said...

"I hope that when I die, people say about me, 'Boy, that guy sure owed me a lot of money.'" -- J.H.

The Godfather said...

We are all dying. From the moment we are born. We are also living from the moment we are born, and for many years we are more involved in the living than in the dying. At some point, the dying takes on greater importance than the living. Different people live differently, and different people die differently.

Roy Lofquist said...

The Fun of Dying by Roberta Grimes

https://www.amazon.com/Fun-Dying-Roberta-Grimes/dp/0692585044

Rick said...

Ann Althouse said...
I'm not suggesting that it's better to die early, just that you shouldn't spend your valuable time imagining dying. You'll be getting it wrong, so you're tormenting yourself with a delusion.


The proof people not dying are wrong comes from people who aren't dead?

Guildofcannonballs said...

"I'm not suggesting that it's better to die early, just that you shouldn't spend your valuable time imagining dying. You'll be getting it wrong, so you're tormenting yourself with a delusion."

All true but since conventional wisdom, which is now what the above statement is, is always 100% wrong let the self-tormenting begin anew without the old, stale bigotry expressed in all conventional wisdom everywhere.

MayBee said...

This seems silly

People who are about to commit suicide also think dying doesn't sound so bad But then in the middle of it, they often change their minds weren't we just talking about putting a net under the Golden Gate Bridge?

The truth is, we can rarely imagine things with the actual emotions we experience when we truly face the situation
For example, I imagined I was going to be able to handle the death of my dog much better than I did

William said...

I'm old and have known, on occasion, intractable pain. There are worse fates than death, but I don't know if that counts as positive thinking.

Ralph L said...

Fr. Schlegel handled his death with grace and class. But the alternative would have been better.
Which alternative? "Battling" cancer for a few extra weeks of pain?
I'm now at the age that my mother first showed symptoms of pancreatic cancer, which runs in her family. I realized at 40 I wasn't getting out of this life alive, but I'm still a fan of gallows humor.

Alzheimer's might be a good way to go, if you trust your caregivers (crap word, and crap for them).

Tim Gilliland said...

"Shorter version: Dying is better than you think."
You first?

The only Woody Allen quote that I allow myself is,
"I don't want to be immortal through my work, I want to be immortal through not dying."

On this we can agree.

Tim Gilliland said...

Contemplating your own death is hard for a lot of people.
I don't know, I can't say I have any insight into that.

I do know that some time ago I read that people don't grieve for the dead:
They grieve for themselves.
Short: they are feeling sorry for themselves.

That was the day my tears dried up. I don't think I will ever weep over a corpse again.

JMW Turner said...

If God was angry with this infuriating race of ungrateful bi-peds, what a cosmic act of revenge by making them painfully aware of their mortality?

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Nice try, Trump!
Get back to work fixing healthcare.

"Oh, maybe dying isn't so bad, why worry about going to the Dr.?"
You almost got me, you scamp.

mockturtle said...

Tim Gilliland writes: I do know that some time ago I read that people don't grieve for the dead:
They grieve for themselves.


As John Donne wrote: ...and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.

Guildofcannonballs said...

Was it the writing or the written works the researchers analyzed, and at what point, if indeed there be any, would the tense change?

Yancey Ward said...

As it turns out, all the bloggers who imagined they were dying were Hillary! supporters.

Yancey Ward said...

"Which Anguish was the utterest—then—
To perish, or to live?"

Yancey Ward said...

I think there are simply experiences you simply can't imagine accurately- they can only be lived so.

Tyrone Slothrop said...

I was diagnosed with cancer fifteen years ago. I didn't know for a year what the outcome would be, but there was a significant chance that I would die. The strangest thing came over me-- I stopped worrying. I had certain things to attend to, therapies and such, and it was easy to decide to pursue the things that might keep me alive. As for worrying about death-- something I had worried about since childhood-- I no longer had time for it. It would have been like worrying about a boulder. My anxiety wasn't going to alter the reality of my death any more than it could affect the reality of a rock. I don't intend to boast about my courage or anything. These feelings just happened to me almost as if I wasn't participating in them. I just think it might be quite common for people to relax when the certainty of death is on them. It's a relief to have that biggest of all questions finally answered.

EDH said...

I think the answer is closer to the old saying, "nobody wants to go out on a sour note."

Steven said...

traditionalguy --

I really don't get how you can possibly reach the conclusion that people are immortal by seeing a person's body die, but not reach the equivalent conclusion when you see, say, a cat's body die.

Me, I find the weight of evidence is that we are fires (that's why we need to take in fuel and oxygen and radiate heat, after all), and can/will gutter out like any other fire. I don't see any more or less need of a soul to explain the process for humans than I need them to explain the same guttering out in chimpanzees, cats, frogs, ants, microbes, or candle flames.

Tarrou said...

“I think that the dying pray at the last not ‘please,’ but ‘thank you,’ as a guest thanks a host at the door.” - Annie Dillard

raf said...

We should therefore be thankful that soon we will have Government Death Panels to provide yet another positive support service.

robinintn said...

"The researchers also compared the last words and poetry of inmates on death row..." There's a statistically valid slice of humanity.

CStanley said...

So many flaws in that study. As others have mentioned, the "control group" was not blinded- they knew they weren't terminally ill.

I also don't think the postings of the terminally ill bloggers represents their true state of mind. It's a select window into their thoughts, and who wouldn't want to portray themselves to the world with bravery and positivity instead of airing all of their insecurities and fears in public?

That said, when people leave behind a record of their look back at their lives and/or of the dying process with the positive slant-particularly parents who do this for their children- it can be very edifying. I recommend The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch, for example (and now that I think about it, the premise of the "last lecture" relates to this study though it doesn't pretend that we can make an honest comparison of those who are really dying to those who are just imagining it.)

CStanley said...

Blogger Tyrone Slothrop said...
I was diagnosed with cancer fifteen years ago. I didn't know for a year what the outcome would be, but there was a significant chance that I would die. The strangest thing came over me-- I stopped worrying. I had certain things to attend to, therapies and such, and it was easy to decide to pursue the things that might keep me alive. As for worrying about death-- something I had worried about since childhood-- I no longer had time for it. It would have been like worrying about a boulder. My anxiety wasn't going to alter the reality of my death any more than it could affect the reality of a rock. I don't intend to boast about my courage or anything. These feelings just happened to me almost as if I wasn't participating in them. I just think it might be quite common for people to relax when the certainty of death is on them. It's a relief to have that biggest of all questions finally answered.


That is really interesting...reminds me of a coping strategy I sometimes use to deal with my considerable anxiety. When I find myself worrying about something I find it useful to imagine the worst case scenario, and ask if there would be anything different I would do in the immediate time frame if I knew that worst thing was going to happen. Most times the answer is no, but if yes then do the preparatory thing.

In a way it's like the Serenity prayer...change what you can, accept what you can't, and don't waste time dithering over which category things fall in.

wildswan said...

The ones who weren't dying projected forward their present thoughts,imaginations and fears about death but the ones in the actual situation had a different experience. Our lives are our own and what we are living is unique, priceless and, as far as time goes, frail. You don't know that when you are young but you have to realize it when you are old. Other meanings, searching questions make an unwanted appearance in your life. As the song says: "You have to walk that lonesome valley/ You have to go there by yourself/ There's no one here to go there for you/ You have to go there by yourself." But then there's also the 23rd psalm.

stlcdr said...

You don't know what it's like to be faced with death until you are actually faced with death.

stlcdr said...

What would you do today, if you knew you were going to die tomorrow?

stlcdr said...

It seems that some who write about death don't actually connect with people who are dying in a way that they need to. Try being a hospice nurse or caregiver.

I suspect that those who do 'connect' then find that they don't have the appropriate words to really describe what is going on in people's minds, and don't, ultimately, write about it.

mockturtle said...

Young Hegelian writes: While out driving today, I was listening to Ralph Stanley singing:

Snap a finger, Jesus, take me home.
My love ones have gone on.
I can't sing too many more songs
Snap a finger, Jesus an' take me home


How about Ralph Stanley's "O Death", from the O Brother Where Art Thou? sound track?

Luke Lea said...

Better version: hope over fear. We don't know what it feels like to die, but we hope it is beautiful, not hideous and painful.